Charleston’s representatives in Washington have been broadly supportive of Republican efforts to pass new tax legislation. No question, reform is needed.
But two tax credits that some GOP members of Congress have proposed slashing or doing away with play critical roles in the revitalization of historic properties, and they’re worth fighting to save.
The historic and new market tax credits are worth millions of dollars as they enable the restoration of important buildings like the Cigar Factory and the Gibbes Museum of Art in downtown Charleston.
“It’s sort of the spine of the preservation movement,” said Winslow Hastie, chief preservation officer with the Historic Charleston Foundation. “These iconic buildings are extremely complex to renovate but the amount of money they pump back into the local economy is significant.”
In total, the historic tax credit has spurred nearly $400 million of investment in South Carolina since it was created in 1986, benefitting dozens of properties, according to the state Historic Preservation Office. It pays for 20 percent of an income-producing project’s cost if owners can certify a property’s historic significance and prove the renovation will meet preservation standards.
The new market tax credit pays 28 percent of a project’s cost if its sponsors can prove that it will spur growth by providing jobs or educational opportunities.
“These tax credits really are what enable these projects to happen,” explained Kristopher King, executive director of the Preservation Society of Charleston.
Most recently, the credits have factored into a proposed $14 million effort by nonprofit group Metanoia to refurbish the old Chicora Elementary School building in North Charleston as a multi-purpose community center. Plans include an early childhood center, start-up companies, artist spaces and other potential uses.
The city of North Charleston took over the property after the Charleston County School District shut down the school in 2011 and it has been vacant ever since. It’s essentially useless without major renovations. Thieves have stripped almost everything of value from the interior.
So the city is lucky to have Metanoia willing to step in and contribute millions to a needed renovation that will preserve a building of historic significance and provide vital community services in an often overlooked part of town.
But tax credits on that property could be worth millions, and the project might not be able to move forward without them.
Worse, the loss of the historic and new market tax credits could prevent other potentially beneficial renovations in the area from ever getting off the ground.
Our region’s history is essential to its character and economy. The loss of even one notable building shouldn’t be taken lightly. And the city’s representatives in Washington should be willing to do all they can to help Charleston residents, developers and nonprofits preserve priceless history.
And it’s not just important to the Lowcountry.
“This is not just a Charleston tax credit,” said Mr. King. “It’s an important tool for economic development statewide.”
Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., who voted for the Senate tax reform bill, has said he will continue fighting to preserve the historic and new market tax credits. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. has also been supportive. The rest of the state’s legislative delegation should join them.
Historic preservation and the revitalization of historically significant properties are good for the economy. Protecting tax credits that support preservation means protecting this community.